Kennedy: Icon of decency, friend of the small guy

It is an end of an Era: No words can really describe the impact of the sad news on the morning of August 26, 2009 of the passing away of Senator Edward M Kennedy. President Barack Obama descried him as the greatest senator of our times. That he was certainly, but to me he stands out as the icon of decency and the best friend of the small guy in this land of the mighty and the powerful. He has been aptly described also as the liberal leader of the Senate and haunted bearer of the Camelot Torch after two of his brothers fell to assassins' bullets. I have most vivid memories of his gracious mannerisms, his kindness and his ever encouraging smile which prompted everyone who met him to open up with candor and trust in him. I first met him in the Senate on the recommendation of Professor Galbraith of Harvard nearly a quarter of century ago as the emissary of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan to the US Congress. The date was September 24, 1986 as on the next day the Pakistan Prime Minister Junejo was scheduled to meet President Regan and I had to fly to London to call on my Cambridge colleague from Magdalene College, the Duke of Gloucester. As a result of my conversation s with Senator Kennedy I advised the premier as an advisor to postpone this meeting with the president by a day as at that time important matters relating to the then upcoming Geneva Accord was in the offing, and Islamabad had still to clear up various matters relating to its nuclear policies with the State department in the post-Soviet period in Afghanistan. True these matters were to be dealt with by the foreign minister; he seemed, however, to busy to do anything in this regard on account of his own pending elections in UNESCO in Paris but which were conducted by him from his suite in the posh New York Hotel at that time. Then later in the fall of 1989 when I joined the Harvard faculty I met him again. I was simply astonished that not he recalled our previous brief meeting but he asked me pointedly: "How is the prime minister?" Thereafter I had the privilege of meeting him several times. He was always in my mind as the real icon of decency and the truest friend of the smallest guy around. No wonder he said long that while he knew he would not become the president of the US but it did not matter as was solely interested in public service, which he could render without any stings of office. By not hankering after offices, he is reminiscent of the perhaps the best well known figure of modern times of this particular class. How many modern state level politicians and leaders of any nation can even pretend to lay claims to such distinction? None in my submission. I also regard him to be a spiritual equivalent of Martin Luther King as he shared the same idealism that King often spoke of when he wanted the realisation of a "dream". In nearly half a century in the Senate, Edward Kennedy was associated with 10 presidents, including his brother John F Kennedy; during this stint of public service he compiled a long list of legislative achievements on healthcare, civil rights, education, immigration and more. His work specially in the Judiciary Committee would stand in a lofty category of honesty which should be the benchmark of integrity of even the best judges in the world. In the recent judicial crisis in Pakistan during the Fall of 2007 and the Spring of 2008 I met him couple of times as he wanted to be kept informed of the development in regard to this matter. In sum, he represented in Aristotelian terms the perfect human rights advocate of the American civil society and indeed polity. Those who knew him have thus lost a genuine friend and they would mourn for him as I do now for along time to come. He did try to run for White House but lost his bid in the 1980 nomination process. More than a quarter-century later, he handed it to then Senator Barack Obama an endorsement at a critical point in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, explicitly saying that the young contender was similar to President Kennedy. Given the close race in which Obama was involved with Hillary Clinton, Kennedy's support for the current president was pivotal. Not merely to the American public, but to the world at large Kennedy was known to all simply as 'Ted'. He remained for everyone the best known surviving son of America's most glamorous political family, a relentless campaigner for what we consider as noble and good as human beings. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," the statement said. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all." "An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time," President Obama said. Edward Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962, taking the seat that his brother John had occupied before winning the White House; he served longer than all but two senators in American history; following his unsuccessful bid for US presidency in 1980 for nomination of the Democratic nomination to President Jimmy Carter, he bowed out with a stirring valedictory statement that has echoed across the decades: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die." Even Republicans could not but admire the stance of Kennedy on several key social issues. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement that her husband and Kennedy "could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another." She added that she considered Kennedy "an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him." Similarly Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, was Kennedy's niece, praised "the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle." Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that both the Kennedy family and the Senate have "lost our patriarch" and vowed Congress would renew the push for the cause of Kennedy's life, healthcare reform. May the vision of Edward M Kenndey for a prosperous, just and a gracious America be fulfilled The writer is a barrister at law (UK) (US), senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and professor at Harvard University

The writer is barrister at law (US and UK), senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and professor at Harvard University.

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